08
Apr
11

May it please the court…

Moot Court!

Last night was my first moot court experience, and it was surprisingly fun.  My co-counsel and I argued our little hearts out (we’re still in our first year, so we haven’t yet completed the transformation into heartless lawyers) but to no avail.  The panel of judges (2 Baker Botts lawyers) decided the case in favor of our opponents.

I suppose the plus side is that it was obvious that we lost based entirely on the judges’ interpretation of the law and not on our presentation, because my partner was named best oral advocate and, in the judge’s words, “followed closely by [the old dawg].”  Even more encouraging was that I was told that my delivery style was perfectly suited for trial court and they felt I would be very effective in that setting.  (Conversational, warm, make-you-feel-like-my-buddy, style.)  Since I hope to be a litigator, that was good news, even if they preferred my partner’s more rapid-fire, matter-of-fact delivery for the appellate proceedings.

Even though we lost the case, it’s nice to know that we looked good doing it!

Now it’s time to dive deep into finals prep.  See you in a few weeks!

29
Mar
11

The Brief (aka Revenge of the Memo)

While struggling with “the memo” last semester, some people tried to cheer us up with thoughts like, “You think that’s bad?  Wait t’till the Brief!”

I suppose it probably did make us feel a little better… knowing that it could be worse.  Of course, that relief turned to dread one we got past the memo and it was time for the Brief.  (Imagine dramatic horror movie music every time you read, the Brief!)

What is the Brief?  It’s 22 pages of fun-filled legal discussion!   With all the added “fun” of bluebook citation format and the court’s specific instructions.

At any rate, I survived writing it and feel quite a bit better about it than I did the memo.  Now I get to wait for about 2 months to get the grade.  That’s fun.  But there’s an added bonus!

We have to do an oral argument.  No worries… I don’t mind speaking in front of groups.  But wait, there’s more!  By random chance, my partner and I got assigned to argue the side of the case that is opposite of what we wrote about!   So much for being prepared.  Grrr.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.  I argue the case next week, and then its time to shift into finals prep. 

25
Jan
11

Grades!

After a wait that seemed to last forever, grades for the first semester are finally in.

Overall, I did about as well as I was expecting.  I survived the memo disaster and although I feel that I could have done better in contracts, my grade was about what I expected after chasing my tail for the first 15 minutes of the 2-hour exam.  Civil Procedure was a surprise as I did better than I expected.

The first rule of law school grades is that you don’t talk about law school grades!

With that sage advice in mind, I will simply rank my grades from best to worst.

  1. Torts
  2. Civil Procedure (surprise!)
  3. Contracts
  4. Legal Writing

The end result is that my school will happily continue cashing my tuition checks, and I will continue to see how long I can go without getting a good night’s sleep.

Class starts in 15 minutes… off I go!

03
Jan
11

One down… 7 to go!

Wow!  It seems like I just finished my finals, but the break is already over and semester 2 starts in a few days.

Speaking of finals – holy cow!  I won’t get grades back for another few weeks (the cynical side of me says they want us on the hook for the second semester’s tuition before they crush us with the reality of how we did), and I honestly have no idea how well (or poorly) I did.  That seems to be the hardest part about law school.  You don’t get any real feedback to gauge how well you understand what’s going on, and then you end the semester with one big test that counts for your whole grade.  Heck, even if you have a good idea of how well you did on any particular exam, you still don’t know what your grade will be since it depends entirely on how well you did compared to your classmates.

But just for posterity, here are my predictions!

The memo was a disaster.  I will be thrilled to get a B in Legal Writing.  The curve at my school is a B, and with as lousy as I feel about my performance on the memo, I’ll take “average” with a smile. 

Going in to Civil procedure, I was sure they were going to tell me not to bother coming back for the second semester.  Although that is still a possibility, I came out of the exam feeling a lot better than I did going in.  I honestly have no idea where I’ll end up.

Contracts.  Going in to contracts, I felt like the master of the universe.  I owned contracts.  I WAS contracts!  Then I read the essay and thought…. what’s a contract, again?  I spun my wheels for a long time before I got back on track, and didn’t really have time to finish it.  I feel like I did below average on the essay portion.  However, I felt really good about the multiple choice portion.  Again, it all depends on how everyone else did and I really don’t have a clue how well I did.

And finally… torts.  Going in I felt even better about this one than contracts.  If there was any class I was going to ace, this was it!  My how things change when a 30 page exam book hits the desk and a clock starts ticking!  I still feel like I did pretty well – I guess we’ll see.

I suppose the lesson is not to try to predict how you’ll do on law school exams, especially when you’ve never taken one before.  Going into the tests, I was pretty sure I knew how I would do in each class.  Coming out… no clue. 

However, there are a few things I am sure about.

First, is that my professors are all freaks of nature.  They are incredibly talented and smart.  Half of them are genuinely funny, and the others… well, I guess you can’t have everything!  I do feel lucky to have such incredible people teaching me about the law.

The second thing is that my classmates are pretty darned amazing as well.  I knew I’d be surrounded by smart people in class, but I didn’t realize that I would be surrounded by such a range of talent.  And contrary to the horror stories I’ve heard about law school, I actually like my classmates.  Friendly, helpful, funny, motivated… just great people to be around.  (I reserve the right to change my mind if I wind up at the absolute bottom of the curve!)

The final thing I learned in my first semester of law school is that it’s hard.  No, really!  I knew the courses would be difficult.  I knew that it would take up a huge chunk of my time.  I didn’t realize how absolutely exhausted I would be by the end of the semester or how much I would have given for just one more day to get ready for exams.  I knew that working full time while attending school would be difficult – but until you step into the meatgrinder that is your first semester of law school, you really don’t understand how finely that grinder is going to shred you.

One semester down… 7 to go.  Hoorah!

05
Nov
10

A Rite of Passage – “The Memo”

It is a dark day for the first year students at my school.  The dreaded “open memo” is upon us.  What is an open memo?  Well, aside from being our entire grade for the first semester of legal writing – it is an exercise in legal research, analysis, and synthesis where we are presented with a legal question to which we are supposed to determine the most likely outcome.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right?  Well… they don’t just ask the question – figuring out the legal question at issue is the first step in the process.  We are presented with a situation and we have to determine the relevant question of law.  Then we have to figure out if there is a statute that governs the question or if we need to rely on common law as dictated by case history.

Heck, even that wouldn’t be so bad if that’s all there was to it.  But we can count on the answer being ambiguous and dependent on the specific facts of the case.  And of course, some of the facts will probably lead toward one result while others will favor the opposite.

So that leads us to the heart of the memo.  We will need to find cases (hopefully from the highest court in our jurisdiction) that have similar facts and see what the courts decided in those cases.  We then need to bundle it all up and come up with a prediction.  (Throwing chicken bones and consulting crystal balls and Ouija boards are optional steps at this point.)

And we will have to cram it all into a ridiculously small number of pages while providing citations in the proper format.

Tonight at 7:00 PM I will receive my assignment.  It will be something along the lines of:

Joe Blow has asked our firm for legal advice.  Joe’s daughter (JoAnn) recently received a large telephone bill for service in October.  The total bill was over $5,000.  While reviewing the bill, which contained numerous international calls, she realized that her long distance service had been changed from MegaPhone Company to HighBillsRUs Company.  She did not authorize the change.  Further review of her bills shows that the long distance carrier was changed in August, but she did not notice it at the time because she did not make any long distance calls in August or September.  JoAnn lives in Houston, Texas.

Joe wants to know if JoAnn will have to pay the bill.  He also wants to know if he can take legal action against either MegaPhone Company or HighBillsRUs.

Please prepare a memo, no longer than 6 pages, which addresses all the legal questions presented.

(Note: The fact pattern above is completely made up – once I get my actual assignment, I won’t be allowed to talk about it)

I will have 2 weeks (and 3 weekends) to do the assignment – while trying to keep up in all my other classes.

Sounds fun, no?

18
Sep
10

“The Schedule”

I used to look forward to weekends. A break from work… time with family… football. Weekends were good.

Of course, that was all before “The Schedule.”

Monday through Thursday, my day starts at 5:30 and ends between 11 and midnight. Friday is dedicated to keeping Mrs LawDawg and the puppies from breaking out the pitchforks and torches and going medieval on me.

So that leaves the weekend for doing my reading, studying, and any writing assignments for the upcoming week. Hence – the schedule.

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

SATURDAY

SUNDAY

8:00 – 9:00

Wake up / shower

8:00 – 9:00

Wake up / shower

9:00 – 12:00

Study

9:00 – 10:00

Family breakfast

12:00 – 1:00

Lunch / break

10:00 – 11:00

Housework/bills/etc

1:00 – 6:00

Study

11:00 – 1:00

Study

6:00 – 8:00

Dinner / family

1:00 – 2:00

Lunch / break

8:00 – 10:00

Study

2:00 – 7:00

Study

7:00 – 8:00

Dinner / break

8:00 – 11:00

Study

Isn’t law school fun?

21
Aug
10

Not in Kansas anymore…

So… I’ve done a bunch of reading. I’ve briefed some cases. I wrote a paper. Heck, I even went to a bar review.

What haven’t I done yet? Just the small matter of… attending a class.

I guess it shows how much different the law school experience is going to be when I’ve done so much stuff and been expected to make sense of it all before ever stepping foot in the classroom.

Law School - Not in Kansas Anymore!

17
Aug
10

Catching up with last year – Twitter

The Old Dawg has given in and finally joined Twitter.
@OldDawgLawBlawg

17
Aug
10

Holy cow! I’m a law student!!

Five months seems like an eternity. When I received that phone call back in March, law school became a reality, but it was a “future” reality – still hazy and nebulous. Well… the future is now!

Last night I attended my first orientation session. I was no longer a prospective student, applicant, admitted student, or innocent bystander… I was a first year law student. I didn’t meet the Dean of SMU’s law school, I met MY Dean. I was surrounded by my classmates, sitting in a classroom in my school.

Over the past few months I have had moments where I wondered if I was making the right decision – wondered if I would be able to find the time to be a good father, husband, employee, and law student. I thought that I would be nervous walking into school at the start of the semester… but I wasn’t. The soul searching and second guessing are over – it’s “go time” baby! And I am excited! A month from now I may be wondering what the heck I’ve gotten myself into, but for now I’m ready.

16
Jul
10

First hand look at the law in action

So the ol’ law dawg has spent the past week getting an up close and personal look at the criminal justice system. I reported to jury duty on Tuesday and was number 22 on a 60 person panel. We filled out a big questionnaire and then were sent off to lunch.

After lunch, we sat through 4 hours of voir dire and then I was really surprised to hear my name called as they were naming the members of the petit jury. We then heard the charges and the defendant entered his plea of not guilty. The case promised to be interesting as it was a home invasion.

Wednesday we heard opening arguments and the state’s case. Everything seemed to move at a snail’s pace and the prosecutor made sure that every little point was driven home repeatedly. I guess he was worried that we might miss it if we didn’t hear something 3 different ways 🙂 At any rate, we learned the details of how a gang member broke in the back door of a house, woke up a resident, discharged a handgun, and walked the poor kid around the house at gunpoint. Unfortunately for defendant, when he tried to leave, police officers had arrived and apprehended him trying to run out the back of the house. The day wrapped up with the state resting.

Thursday we heard the defense in the morning and they rested before lunch. They claimed duress as the defense. (The other gang members made me do it!) After lunch we heard closing arguments and got the verdict sheet… and then it was off to the jury room for deliberations.

The first order of business was to elect a foreman. In voir dire both of the lawyers asked me about law school (since I mentioned it in answer to a question on the long questionnaire we filled out). I guess that made me the obvious choice in a bunch of people’s minds, since about 4 people immediately pointed to me when the subject of who to elect came up. So much for hiding in the back during deliberations 🙂

I’m not sure how long it took us, but it wasn’t long before we decided a guilty verdict on both charges: Engaging in organized crime while committing aggravated robbery and engaging in organized crime while committing burglary of a habitation (with an enhancement due to the use of a firearm in the crime). I’m absolutely certain we got it right… but it was still a heavy moment when the judge read those guilty verdicts in court. Passing judgement on someone wasn’t nearly as easy as i thought it would be.

We quickly rolled into the sentencing phase and heard opening arguments, saw the defendant’s rap sheet (several priors… non-violent but escalating each time), and heard testimony from his parents and a couple members of the family’s church. Both sides rested and we called it a day while the court prepared the verdict sheets and jury instructions.

Friday morning we heard closing arguments from both sides and then it was off to the jury room to try to agree on sentencing. Each charge had a range of 5 to 99/life and the defendant would be eligible for parole after serving 50% or 30 years, whichever was less. The sentences would run concurrently.

We started out with people’s preferred sentencing falling into ranges from the low 20s all the way up to 99 years. Trying to turn that disparity into a unanimous number was a daunting task and we spent hours working toward narrowing the range. We finally got down to a group that could accept 40 minimum and another that would take 30 maximum. The majority was comfortable within that entire range. We also stopped making progress and asked the judge to let us take a break.

Fast forward to after lunch… and we start off by making a bit of progress before stalling. We’re now dealing with a 3 year difference between the two camps. We hash things out a dozen different ways looking for a way to get one side to consider moving and it finally works. We agree on 32 years for each count. Since the deliberations were so stressful and the camps so reluctant to move… we stopped for a few minutes and went around the table to make sure everyone could live with the final number. With that done, we informed the judge that we had reached a decision.

Shortly afterward we presented our verdicts to the judge, he read them in court, and it was over.

An unexpected bonus was having the judge come by to talk to us afterward and explain several things about the case. After that, we had the opportunity to speak to the lawyers from both sides and ask questions. It was a really enlightening experience.

The old law dog certainly learned some new tricks this week! And I’m even more excited than ever about starting school next month!!




@OldDawgLawBlawg

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